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At the UN, Boris Johnson Tries to Rally Forces for the Climate Change Event in November


Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 22, 2021. He concentrated solely on climate change, trying to drum up excitement for the Glasgow conference in November, or COP26. Johnson was the last speaker on Wednesday’s roster at the UN, referring in his remarks to Kermit the Frog as well as Sophocles. He said he may change his name to Boreas Johnson, to honor the Greek god of north wind, noting his country’s many offshore wind turbines. CIA PAK/UN PHOTO

If you have understandably faded from the UNGA76 gathering by now, here are highlights for Day 3 of global leaders’ speeches, held on Sept. 23. We’ve also included Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s late-night remarks on Sept. 22 in the General Assembly Hall. Only four women have spoken across the three days, from Estonia, Moldova, Slovakia and Tanzania, in a total of about 90 speakers. Please send news tips to


Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands out at the General Assembly’s speechifying for his eccentricity, and this year was no exception. He spoke in person, having been inserted as the last leader on the Sept. 22 roster, jumping the line as a head of government in a day reserved for heads of state. Nevertheless, Johnson glommed on to climate change — trying to spark excitement for the big conference in Glasgow in November (COP26) — by invoking a range of facts, metaphors and images, including Kermit the Frog, the children’s storybook character. “And when Kermit the frog sang ‘It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,’ I want you to know he was wrong — and he was also unnecessarily rude to Miss Piggy.”

More seriously, Johnson said: “We have the tools for a green industrial revolution but time is desperately short. Two days ago, in New York we had a session in which we heard from the leaders of the nations most threatened by climate change: the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, Bangladesh and many others. And they spoke of the hurricanes and the flooding and the fires caused by the extreme meteorological conditions the world is already seeing. And the tragedy is that because of our past inaction, there are further rises in temperature that are already baked in — baked is the word. And if we keep on the current track then the temperatures will go up by 2.7 degrees or more by the end of the century.”

He concluded: “I hope that COP26 will be a 16th birthday for humanity in which we choose to grow up, to recognise the scale of the challenge we face, to do what posterity demands we must, and I invite you in November to celebrate what I hope will be a coming of age and to blow out the candles of a world on fire. See you in Glasgow.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Relatedly, The Washington Post published a story on how many children Johnson has: six with another on the way.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel condemned what he called the greed of pharmaceutical companies profiting from their vaccines while “the most vulnerable have been left unprotected” in the pandemic, which has left 4.5 million people dead worldwide. He avoided talking about his country’s domestic problems regarding protests. 


Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel denounced what he considered greed by transnational pharmaceutical companies amid the most devastating pandemic in 100 years that has left 4.5 million people dead so far.

“The most vulnerable have been left unprotected, while rich nations, the elites and the transnational pharmaceutical corporations have continued to profit,” Díaz-Canel said in a video speech broadcast to the General Assembly.

Prioritizing private interests while millions of people have died from Covid-19 has shown that the “implementation of neoliberal formulas” has hindered the abilities of countries to meet the needs of their population. He called for more international solidarity to accelerate vaccination worldwide.

In Cuba, three vaccines and two candidate vaccines against Covid-19 have been developed, he said. In the first 10 days of this month, more than 15.8 million doses of the Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus vaccines have been administered and 37.8 percent of Cubans are fully vaccinated, he added. “We expect to achieve full immunization by the end of 2021, which will make it possible for us to advance in the struggle against the new outbreak of the pandemic.”

Díaz-Canel also looked at the wider vaccine picture, saying, “Hundreds of millions of persons in low-income countries are still waiting to receive their first dose and cannot even estimate when or if they will ever receive it. At the same time, it is hard to believe that the world’s military budget in the year 2020 amounted to almost $2 trillion.”

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According to the World Health Organization, more than five billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally as of August 2021. However, more than 80 percent of them were sent to middle- or high-income countries, even though they account for far less than half the world’s population. In Africa, just 2 percent of the population have received a vaccine.

In that context, Díaz-Canel said that the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 has been seriously compromised. By then, the global poverty rate is projected to be 7 percent, or around 600 million people.

Cuba traditionally uses the annual General Assembly session to criticize capitalism and promote a more equitable world order. Yet it typically has little to offer its own people. For example, Díaz-Canel did not mention the large demonstrations that occurred in several Cuban cities in July, with people protesting the scarcity of basic needs and lack of political freedoms. According to media reports, more than 100 people were arrested. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern about the alleged use of excessive force against protesters and the number of arrests.

Bachelet also reiterated her appeal for the lifting of sanctions against Cuba, however, which have negatively affected human rights, including the right to health, she said. — MAURIZIO GUERRERO 

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the president of Burkina Faso, described his landlocked country in the Sahel region of Africa as facing the world’s worst displacement crisis, coupled with deepening security and climate problems. 


Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the president of Burkina Faso, a country facing the world’s “fastest growing displacement crisis,” spoke of the deteriorating security in the border area the country shares with Mali and Niger and called for continuing support of the United Nations-backed G5 joint Sahel force to combat terrorism in the region.


The pandemic was a blip on the president’s agenda, as he spoke from the capital, Ouagadougou, in a taped video. He praised the Covax mechanism, the World Health Organization’s initiative to enable vaccine distribution to poor and middle-income countries that some African doctors have criticized. And he called for more “strengthening of international solidarity to fight against this pandemic,” without referring to the low access to vaccines and vaccination rates in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa. Instead, Kaboré spoke of the need to remember the HIV-AIDS “pandemic” and endorsed a recent political declaration to end it by 2030.


Burkina Faso’s security crisis was a major theme, as Kaboré called for more global backing of the G5 joint Sahel force, which receives no funding from the UN but expertise, and reassurances that “military operations, like those already carried out, will be conducted with strict respect for human rights.” Burkina Faso, whose forces are part of the G5 coalition force (with Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and which is supported by France, the European Union and the United States, has been criticized by groups like Human Rights Watch for committing grave human-rights violations. Kaboré praised the heads of state and the regional body the Economic Cooperation of West African States for creating a 2020-2024 plan for eradicating terrorism and thanked Secretary-General António Guterres for “his personal commitment to the Sahel.”

Climate change

Kaboré noted the increasing levels of degraded land, estimated at around 34 percent, and the problems of “endemic” drought and flooding in Burkina Faso, along with rising competition for access to natural resources, which is destabilizing swathes of the country. He also underlined the importance of food security in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow in November.


Burkina Faso’s president called on his fellow world leaders to pay greater attention to the Libyan conflict, so security in the Sahel may be maintained. — CLAIR MACDOUGALL


Dressed in a traditional white bazan outfit, rather than his usual military uniform, President Mahamat Idriss Déby of Chad, who took over the country after the assassination of his father, Idriss Déby Itno, in April, called for debt relief for G-5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and chastised rich countries for Covid-19 vaccine hoarding and the Security Council for excluding Africa from having a permanent seat in the UN body.


Déby spoke about the dire economic impact of the pandemic on Africa and developing countries more generally. He saluted international bilateral partners for their assistance but also hit on rich countries who had achieved around 50 percent of vaccine coverage while Africans had less than 2 percent. “Nothing can justify this imbalance, given the interdependence of our world,” he said, adding that it was “unacceptable that certain countries are stocking surplus while others are sorely lacking.”

He called for canceling the foreign debt of the G-5 Sahel countries, which have been “hard hit by terrorism, climate change in addition to COVID-19 and everyday poverty.” He added that the lack of prospects for youth was contributing to jihadist recruitment and illegal migration to Europe.

The Libyan problem

Déby referred to the “tragic disappearance of our president” — his father — who “fell on the battlefield of honor” combating mercenaries who came from Libya. He also spoke about his country’s political transition and called for partners to fund a $1.3 billion plan to help the process. Expressing concern about mercenaries and irregular armies in neighboring Libya, he called on the Security Council to engage in discussions with them and for their departure. He said that he favored a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program for Chadians who had joined Libyan factions and called on the UN for funding and aid to do this.

Security Council

Déby called for more lasting inclusion of Africans in the Council, which has five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US), asking, “How [is the UN able] to ignore the persistent call from a continent unjustly excluded from an organ that wants to be the representative of all of humanity and claims to act upon its behalf?” — CLAIR MACDOUGALL 

A UN protocol expert on the third day of the general debate of the General Assembly’s 76th session. CIA PAK/UN PHOTO

More highlights:

Guterres’s press stakeoutAfter attending an evening session with the foreign ministers of the Security Council’s permanent members on Afghanistan, the secretary-general said, “We all want an Afghanistan in peace, and stability and an Afghanistan in which we could have an inclusive government, representative of the different sectors of the population, with respect for the rights, especially of girls and women, and with no sanctuary for terrorism and a cooperative approach to drug trafficking. These are the areas in which I believe everybody agrees.”

Department of Peace Operations: Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the peacekeeping chief, will meet US Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, senior bureau official for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs in the State Department, on Sept. 24. A spokesperson for Lacroix did not elaborate on what would be discussed.

UN Food Systems Summit: Community leaders, diplomats and civil society organizations gathered to discuss how to manage the world’s food production systems while mitigating climate change and ending hunger and malnutrition. “We are waging a war against nature — and reaping the bitter harvest,” Guterres told the summit. “Food systems can and must play a leading role” in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. He called for investment in early-warning famine prevention systems and to “shock-proof” health, water and sanitation systems on top of the food systems themselves. 

The meeting also highlighted commitments to drive the world’s agricultural systems in more equitable and sustainable directions. These included certain American food companies making the dairy business “carbon neutral or better” by 2050. The collective commitments to improving food security and “nature-based” solutions focused on how to reduce waste, enhance efficiency in production chains and better provide access to food for workers and low-income people throughout the globe.

Samantha Power, the head of Usaid, announced at the summit that it plans to commit $5 billion over five years to Feed the Future, the government’s global hunger and food security initiative and an intent to expand Feed the Future to additional countries. — ANNA BIANCA ROACH 

UN spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked Stéphane Dujarric: I’d like to know, Deborah Lyons, the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) in Afghanistan, is she still working from Kazakhstan?

Reply: No, she is in Kabul. . . .

Reporter: When did she come . . . go back?

Reply: She came back, I think, last week.

Reporter: Because I heard she was the first one to be in the UN plane at first and she . . . she left behind the local people? Is it true?

Reply: She’s not the first one to be. . . . She did not. . . . Okay. Let’s rewind a little bit. Ms. Lyons was in Kabul until, if I recall, very late in August, at some of the most difficult time. She had a . . . there was a family emergency that she had to be there for. She was in Kazakhstan. There was also, as I will remind you, the two deputy special representatives were and remained in Kabul the whole time. We also tried to rotate some of those senior leadership out.

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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At the UN, Boris Johnson Tries to Rally Forces for the Climate Change Event in November
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